Max du Preez

Criminals among us: the culture of impunity should worry us

2017-07-11 08:44
Protesters march to Parliament in Cape Town in an anti-corruption march. (Tina Hsu, News24)

Protesters march to Parliament in Cape Town in an anti-corruption march. (Tina Hsu, News24)

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The wide scale corruption, theft of state money and state capture are huge problems. But the absence of any investigations and consequences is a more serious problem in the long term.

We all feel reassured when we see that the judiciary is still independent and functioning well, but we have to be very concerned that no or very few of these criminal acts ever make it to the courts.

This new culture of impunity is undermining our democratic culture and the credibility and trust in the state.

The citizenry is getting more and more dulled; corruption is becoming a crime no more serious than a speeding fine.

The rot has seemingly spread to auditing firms like KPMG and financial consultancy groups like McKinsey and Trillian after they got involved in the Gupta mess.

The offices of the chief justice, the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) are burgled and computers stolen and we have little expectation that someone will eventually land in jail.

South Africa is becoming a gangster state and we, the citizens, feel powerless.

Jacob Zuma’s friend and benefactor Schabir Shaik and senior ANC figure Tony Yengeni were sent to jail a few years ago for corruption involving fairly small amounts of money.

Today politicians, civil servants and business people with the right connections can embezzle billions or simply stuff the money in their pockets and there will be no consequences.

Let’s take two simple examples that we all know about: the R600 million (and the job of finance minister) that the Guptas offered Mcebisi Jonas if he did their bidding, and the R30 million taxpayer money meant for a dairy farm that paid for the Gupta wedding at Sun City.

These are serious crimes of corruption and theft, but there were no consequences. I could have used dozens of other examples.

Civil society groups and opposition parties have laid a dozen or so criminal charges of corruption, money laundering and state capture with the police, but nobody believes that this would really result in any serious investigations.

The political coopting of the police started during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki (remember the emasculation of the Scorpions and the struggle to get the police commissioner charged?) but it has been taken to extremes by Jacob Zuma.

It is appropriate to mention here that the former boss of crime intelligence and Zuma confidante, general Richard Mdluli, who is suspected of abuse of power and stealing money from his unit’s secret funds, was suspended seven years ago and paid more than R8 million up to date while sitting at home. (Or is he just sitting at home?)

The Hawks have become a toothless lapdog of the Zuma inner circle.

It spent more time and energy to threaten and harass one of the few honest state prosecutors, Glynnis Breytenbach, and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan than it did investigating corruption.

Three years ago the Hawks still looked like it was committed to clean up, but then general Anwa Dramat was forced out after it became clear that his unit was going to investigate senior government and ANC leaders and their business associates.

This also happened at the South African Revenue Service, with the result that most investigations into the tax affairs of serious crooks with political connections were dropped.

The new director-general of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, is accused of tender fraud, falsification of a tax certificate and embezzling secret SSA funds, but he is sitting pretty in his powerful office. (Fraser was allegedly also the one who had leaked the secret Zuma tapes to his lawyers.)

If only the NPA had escaped being coopted by the politicians, our criminal justice system would have had some life in it.

Its asset forfeiture unit, for instance, could have seized properties of some of the high-flying crooks we read about every day – the unit’s motto is “Taking the profit out of crime”. If only.

What can be done about this dangerous state of affairs?

Fortunately we still have brave and clever investigative journalists who will keep us informed about the latest scandals – yes, the same people now targeted by Gupta proxies parading as political activists.

Civil society activists, the faith communities and the opposition parties should escalate their agitation and court applications.

But it would be most helpful if the ANC’s parliamentary caucus would come to the party and allow more of the kind of hearings of portfolio committees that had dealt so effectively with the SABC, SASSA and Eskom.

It is your country duty, comrades.

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Read more on:    state capture  |  corruption  |  guptas
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